Poetess Tradition

The Poetess Archive

Maria Brooks               TEI-encoded version

"Maria Brooks [Maria del Occidente]"

Rufus Griswold

[In The Female Poets of America (New York, NY, US: J. Miller, 1873), pp. 69-70: ]


(Born 1785 - Died 1845)

It may be doubted whether, in the long catalogue of those whose works illustrate and vindicate the intellectual character and position of women, there are many names that will shine with a clearer, steadier, and more enduring lustre, than that of MARIA DEL OCCIDENTE.

MARIA GOWEN, afterward Mrs. Brooks, upon whom this title was conferred originally, I believe, by the poet Southey, was descended form a Welsh family that settled in Charlestown, near Boston, sometime before the Revolution. A considerable portion of the liberal fortune of her grandfather was lost by the burning of that city in 1775, and he soon afterward removed to Medford, across the Mystic river, where Maria Gowen was born in 1795. Her father was a man of education, and among his intimate friends were several of the professors of Harvard college, whose occasional visits varied the pleasures of rural life. From this society she derived, at an early period, a taste for letters and learning. Before the completion of her ninth year, she had committed to memory many passages form the best poets; and her conversation excited special wonder by its elegance, variety, and wisdom. She grew in beauty, too, as she grew in years, and when her father died, a bankrupt, before she had attained the age of fourteen, she was betrothed to a merchant of Boston, who undertook the completion of her education, and as soon as she quitted the school was married to her. Her early womanhood was passed in commercial affluence; but the loss of several vessels at sea in which her husband was interested was followed by other losses on land, and years were spent in comparative indigence. In that remarkable book, Idomen, or The Vale of Yumuri, she says, referring to this period: "Our table had been hospitable, our doors open to many; but to part with our well-garnished dwelling had now become inevitable. We retired, with one servant, to a remote house of meaner dimensions, and were sought no longer by those who had come in our wealth. I looked earnestly around me, the present was cheerless, the future dark and fearful. My parents were dead, my few relatives in distant countries, where they thought perhaps little of my happiness. Burleigh I never loved other than as a father and protector; but he had been the benefactor to my fallen family, and to him I owed comfort, education, and every ray of pleasure that had glanced before me in this world. But the sun of his energies was setting, and the faults which had balanced his virtues increased as his fortune declined. He might have lived through many years of misery, and to be devoted to him was my duty while a spark of his life remained. I strove to nerve my heart for the worst. Still there were moments when fortitude became faint with endurance, and visions of happiness that might have been mine came smiling to my imagination. I wept and prayed in agony."

In this period, poetry was resorted to for amusement and consolation. At nineteen she wrote a metrical romance, in seven cantos, but it was never published. It was followed by many shorter lyrical pieces, which were printed anonymously: and in 1820, after favorable judgments of it had been expressed by some literary friends,1 she gave to the public a small volume entitled Judith, Esther, and other Poems, by a Lover of the Fine Arts. It contained many fine passages, and gave promise of the powers of which


the maturity is illustrated by Zophiël. The volume was dedicated to a friend

               Who cheered her first faint lays
10     With the hope-kindling breath of timely praise,

In the following verses:

     Lady, I’ve woven for thee a wreath --
               Though pale the buds that gem it,
     Think of the gloom they grew beneath,
               Nor utterly contemn it.
15     Scarce in my cradle was I laid,
               Ere Fate relentless bound me,
     Deep in a narrow vale of shade,
               Where prisoning rocks surround me.
     Lady, I've called a wreath for you,
20               From the few flowers that grow there,
     Because it was all that I could do
               To lull the sense of wo there.
     Yet, lady, I have known delight
               The heart with bliss overflowing,
25     Endearing forms have blest my sight
               With soul and beauty glowing.
     For hope came all arrayed in light,
               And pitying stood before me,
     Smiled on each flinty barrier’s height,
30               And to its summit bore me.
     She showed many a scene divine --
               She told me -- and descended --
     Of joys that never must be mine --
               And then -- her power ended.
35     Oh, pleasures dead as soon as born,
               To be forgotten never! --
     Oh, moments, fleeting, few, and gone,
               To be regretted ever!
     A few sweet waves of glowing light
40               Upon time's dreary ocean,
     Light gales that wake the dead, calm night
               To momentary motion;
     Bright beams that in their beauty bless
               A dark and desert plain,
45     To show its fearful loneliness,
               And disappear again.
     Yet oft she hovers o'er me now,
               Each soothing effort making:
     So mothers kiss the infant's brow,
50               But can not cure its aching.
     Then, lady, oh, accept my wreath,
               Though all besides condemn it;
     Think of the gloom it grew beneath,
               Nor utterly contemn it.

In the two principal poems are presented characters entirely different in minds and person, but equally entitled to admiration. In Judith are exhibited prudence, fortitude, and decision, softened by a feminine sensibility; in Esther, a soul painfully alive to every tender emotion, and a noble elevation of mind struggling with constitutional softness and timidity. Many passages remind us of her maturest style, as this description of the slayer of the Assyrian:

55     With even step, in mourning garb arrayed.
                         Fair Judith walked, and grandeur marked her air
     Though humble dust, in pious sprinklings laid,v
                         Soiled the dark tresses of her copious hair.

And this picture of a boy:

     Softly supine his royal limbs reposed,
60                         His locks curled high, leaving the forehead bare
     And o'er his eyes the light lids gently closed.
                         As they had feared to hide the brilliance there.

And this description of the preparations of Esther to appear before Abasuerus:

     "Take ye, my maids, this mournful garb away;
                         Bring all my glowing gems and garments fair;
65     A nation's fate impending hangs today
     But on my beauty and your duteous care."
     Prompt to obey, her ivory form they lave;
                         Some comb and braid her hair of wavy gold;
     Some softly wipe away the limpid wave [rolled]
70                         That o’er her dimply limbs in drops of fragrance
     Refreshed and faultless from their hands she came
                         Like form celestial clad in raiment bright;
     O'er all her garb rich India’s treasures flame.
                         In mingling beams of rainbow-colored light.
75     Graceful she entered the forbidden court
                         Her bosom throbbing with her purpose high;
     Slow were her steps, and unassured her port,
                         While hope just trembled in her azure eye.
     Light on the marble fell her ermine tread,
80                         And when the king, reclined in musing mood,
     Lifts, at the gentle sound, his stately head,
                         Low at his feet the sweet intruder stood.

Among the shorter poems are several that are marked by fancy and feeling, and a graceful versification, of one of which, an elegy, these are the opening verses:

     Lone in the desert, drear and deep,
               Beneath the forest's whispering shade,
85     Where brambles twine and mosses creep,
               The lovely Charlotte's grave is made.
     But though no breathing marble there
               Shall gleam in beauty through the gloom,
     The turf that hides her golden hair
90               With sweetest desert-flowers shall bloom.
     And while the moon her tender light
               Upon the hallowed scene shall fling,
     The mocking-bird shall sit at night
               Among the dewy leaves, and sing.

The following clever translation of the Greek of Moschus, from this volume, was made in the author's seventeenth year:

Maria Brooks

95     Listen, listen, softly, clear --
     Venus' accents woo the ear!
     "Gentle stranger, hast thou seen,"
     thus begins the beauteous queen:
     "Hast thou seen my Cupid stray,
100     lurking near the public way?"


One of the friends here alluded to was the late Dr. Kirkland, president of Harvard college. On a blank leaf of the first copy of the volume that she received, she wrote the following lines, which have never before been printed.

     Should e'er my half-fledged muse attain the height
               She trembling longs, yet fears to tempt no more,
     Still will she bless, though wounded in her flight,
               The generous hand that gave her strength to soar.
5     But should resistless tempests fiercely meet,
               And cast her, struggling, to the whelming wave,
     Even then, one tender, grateful pulse shall beat
               In her torn heart, for him who strove to save.

Writing to me in 1842, Mrs. Brooks enclosed these verses and observed: "I recall them after an interval of twenty years. They have meaning and sincerity in them; but having during that time extended my acquaintance with muses and angels, I can not now bear to see either often represented with plumage on their wings. Some of the most celebrated painters have, however, set the example."


Date: 1873 (Coding Revisions: 12/31/2005). Author: Rufus Griswold (Coding Revisions: Laura Mandell).
The editorial work appearing here is copyrighted; the page is available according to the terms of fair use.